Darren's latest thought leadership article.
The coaching profession has seen tremendous
growth in the past 30 years, helping big-name
clients run businesses more effectively. In this article, published for the Changeboard on behalf of the Association for Coaching, Darren Robson explores why coaching is the number one professional development intervention in corporations worldwide.
Why is coaching on the rise?
The credibility and usage of coaching as a profession in the corporate world has dramatically grown over the past ten years, and this trend continues. One of the reasons we believe that coaching is proving to be a highly effective solution is that it gets people to look at their life and professional talents in a way they haven’t previously. Coaches are there to serve the needs of the client and to witness them growing as they develop a self-deterministic mind-set and gain greater levels of awareness and responsibility.
Coaching offers multiple wins because it develops people who contribute to the purpose and bottom-line of the organisation in a positive manner, both in terms of quantitative and qualitative measures. Coaching is about going on the inner journey first, rather than seeking to get people to change external behaviour alone – this I believe to be a superficial approach to personal change.
People are also starting to realise that working just for the money is meaningless if the work fails to connect with their deeper needs, wants, values and purpose. The accessibility of global media combined with our ability to travel and see the world has helped people see how fortunate they are and how much freedom we have.
From an organisational perspective, the decline of trust with big organisations and their leaders has highlighted an imbalance and increasing need for people and organisations to walk their talk. When the reputations of organisations come into question, it has an impact on their people and employee brand reputation. The negative consequences of this can be very damaging to morale and engagement in companies and industries. Equally, it gets leaders and their people to ask themselves deeper questions about why they do what they do.
When did the coaching movement first start?
The seeds of the profession started on the west coast of the US over 30 years ago, with Sir John Whitmore and Tim Gallway being some of the early pioneers.
The Association for Coaching has developed coaching standards in the UK, and there are other bodies who have not only been instrumental in the industry’s development, but will increasingly be involved in cementing the global coaching industries professionalisation, credibility, and reputation.
How has coaching matured over the past decade?
In the past, there was a small community of coaches seeking to establish a credible space for coaching; at that time people didn’t differentiate between coaching, consulting, training and mentoring. That’s no longer the case.
Coaching is now a global profession, which means that different markets are at different stages of growth. When The Association for Coaching began, there was little emphasis on localised coaching in the UK; now it’s celebrating 10 fantastic years.
The following achievements highlight the burgeoning growth, influence and positive impact the global coaching profession is increasingly having within society and corporations.
There are academic programmes dedicated to learning about becoming a coach, books in the thousands, and academic journals dedicated to the subject, events across the globe and online that seek to teach people about coaching.
There’s an estimated 30,000+ professional coaches in the world not including the practitioners working in organisations.
There is a clear professional pathway to accreditation.
The leading bodies are collaborating and working together in the best interest of the profession and their communities.
There is an increased emphasis on coaching in education and other parts of society.
Coaching is seen as the number one professional development intervention in corporations.
How is coaching being used within organisations?
Coaching is now the leading intervention for CEO, executive, leadership and management development, often used in combination with training and development. Over the past three years, coaching has broken through in terms of credibility and recognition of its impact on developing talent and coaching cultures.
Some of the key trends for coaching within organisations include:
CEO and top-team development, enabling senior teams to align and engage to build high performance teams and cultures.
Cross-cultural coaching to support globally diverse and geographically disbursed teams to work effectively together to maximise their market potential.
Leadership and management development programmes (coaching is increasingly used to reinforce training and development programmes and initiatives).
Companies are building their internal coaching teams, subsequently reinforcing and enhancing the use of highly credible external professional coaches.
Many organisations are building a coaching culture because they see coaching as a means to build a new way of working that enhances the talents, skills and strengths of their teams.
Social innovation: organisations are using coaches to help them build a meaningful legacy and CSR strategy that really makes a difference on a local level.
Virtual coaching is utilised to ensure that a coach with the right skill set and experience supports a leader and their team through transition.
What does purposeful coaching mean?
Purposeful coaching means to use coaching philosophies, skills, techniques and capabilities to help someone discover their life purpose on both a professional and personal level. The more aligned a human being feels to their deepest conscious and unconscious drivers, the more their life feels aligned. As a result they often feel a greater level of energy, happiness and commitment to their professional life.
That’s not to say that a purposeful life is without highs and lows, it simply means that a person understands why they do what they do and can then live their life on purpose.
How can leaders help employees to find meaning?
It’s important to say that finding meaning is the personal responsibility of the individual rather than an organisation. I often meet and hear from employees who blame their boss or an organisation for not having what they want from their career and I challenge them to look at their own mindset, character and behaviour. People need to take personal responsibility for their lives, not seek to blame others for their situation.
I believe that from an organisational perspective there is a growing body of evidence that highlights when a person feels aligned with an organisation and their role aligns with their talents, strengths, values and purpose there are a great deal of benefits to the individual, the team and organisation.
People who love what they do and are aligned with the mission and purpose of an organisation are willing to go that extra mile. They exert more of their discretionary energy, talents and creative intelligence. This benefits them because they grow professionally and personally while positively contributing to the organisation and its purpose.
How can leaders engage with their employees?
Leaders with a team of direct reports should spend quality one-to-one time getting to know each team member beyond work. It’s important to understand what makes the person tick and to find ways to help them do their best work. People love to be given opportunities that grow them while making a difference to the business. The best leaders understand the social process they need to work through in building trust, empathy and professional intimacy with their teams.
If you are the CEO of a large, complex global business the challenges upon your time will be innumerable. Ensure that you have a great story to share with people; this is an effective way to demonstrate you support a culture that believes in the potential of people, stretches them and grows them to be the best they can be. You do this by working on your direct leadership team and by getting out into the business once a quarter to find out what’s going on. Leadership by walking around says a lot about you and the organisation you lead, and having that ability to listen to people from all walks of life and levels is important.
Social media and interactive dynamic media tools have its challenges, but it ensures that people can build a picture of who the CEO is and what is important to them and the organisation. Making these types of communication bi-directional allows people to feel heard, involved and ultimately engaged.
What is authentic leadership?
Authentic leadership will have different meanings for different people, communities and organisations. In essence, it is a desire for leaders to be themselves, to speak and listen with honesty, to challenge and stand up for cultural values and beliefs that are important to them personally and to the organisation. People increasingly wish to see leaders walk their talk, and play with a straight bat.
Are there negatives leading without authenticity?
When you are in a powerful leadership role the negative consequences of not leading with authority can be huge. Take Enron, News International, and the financial sector in general: some might suggest that their problems can be attributed to a lack of authenticity.
Equally, it may be that greed and short-termism are part of these corporate and political cultures and therefore they were being authentic. It’s important to say that a few people operating outside of the cultural norms shouldn’t represent an entire organisation or industry, but in today’s dynamic media-hungry world, they often do.
At a deeper level, authenticity is associated with morals, ethics and it means to do what is humanly right. You don’t need a textbook to teach you these principles; they are hardwired into most of us, regardless of our personal background and education.
Why is authenticity important when leading?
On a more emotional level, I think it’s about leaders who own up when they make mistakes or get it wrong and who are willing to share a level of vulnerability by being honest about the lessons they learn and how far they are along their own professional journey. CEOs and leaders are often put on pedestals and I believe there is nothing more energising than when a CEO treats people with humility, dignity and respect; irrespective or their role, title or perceived power base.
Leaders can do all of this by being real, honest, open, and candid. In today’s world, people often forget that you can be successful and moral at the same time. Leaders who walk their talk gain followership, and they galvanise people to follow them. Listening to people and actively demonstrating that you have time to stop and listen is one of the most simple yet profound ways a leader can make an impact.
Sharing a dream, vision or purpose
Attract and grow talent: People don’t leave companies, they leave managers and leaders. If someone is working with a leader who develops and grows them, they are very likely to share it within their professional network (often a highly talented one) – employee and employer brand and reputation are critical determinants of success for attracting, retaining, developing and growing people.
A leader who has coaching skills and can help an individual reach their potential is a win for the individual, team, company, client and stakeholders.
Empower individuals: A coaching approach involves setting stretch targets and boundaries with people and encourages people to achieve things that they believe they can’t do. A leader with a coaching philosophy is more likely to challenge and support a person to reach their professional and creative edge. Human beings love this and are more likely to give of themselves as a natural result.
Additionally, empowerment is often seen in a hierarchical manner: “As a leader, I empower you, which is code for I respect you and trust you won’t screw it up.” A leader’s best message to people is that personal responsibility and self-empowerment is totally up to them. Leadership can then be about inspiring instead of controlling and manipulating, which is often the negative by-product of a leader who sees themselves as the source of power as opposed to the individual and team.
Build a sense of community: Coaching helps people to discover their purpose (commonly referenced as legacy) or contribution or making a difference. It’s natural therefore that as a leader who understands their desired legacy or ‘what will I be famous or remembered for’ to help their teams to stop and think about this for themselves individually and collectively. CEOs who are highly recognised are often great storytellers; they are able to share a dream, vision or purpose that inspires people to take aligned action to make a dream a reality. In life we often forget childhood dreams and that is sad, as there is often a great deal to be gained from making these a reality into adult life.
Build trust and loyalty: People follow leaders who walk their talk, remain honest, real and consistent through good and bad times. Leaders with a strong sense of purpose morally, ethically, culturally and socially, achieve an emotional connection with people because they are seen as people you can trust to do the right or best thing. Coaching is not soft and woolly; the truth is the polar opposite.
Coaching relationships should be honest, candid, truthful, challenging and supportive in equal measures. The best coaches are the ones who give tough professional love and make people look at themselves in a way that is sometimes challenging and difficult. Leaders need to play the same role with people in order to help stretch their employees to new ways of thinking, mind-set and ultimately performance.
The coaching journey naturally gets people to consider their values and what is really meaningful in life. It’s important for leaders to think about their company’s wider implication for society and the environment because indicators show that the planet is finite and that companies have the potential to have a highly positive or negative impact upon people and the planet.
Global citizenship is something people are becoming more conscious of and are making discretionary purchases based upon how a company operates. Companies that pollute or cheat the British tax system will soon find that this will impact the organisation’s brand, which will impact their financial returns and the talent they attract. Be good or get caught cheating; social media is a powerful democratisation of information, which spreads very rapidly these days.
Helping leaders overcome their challenges
Leaders have to go through a number of transitions and there are many different types. My colleagues and I work closely with CEOs and executive leaders to help them consider their first 90-120 days in a new role. This is where a coach acts as a mentor and trusted advisor and offers a creative space for a leader to think through their strategy and approach.
Coaches are becoming more sophisticated in not only asking great questions but also bringing insights and ideas that can really help clients move forward. The zealots in the coaching world will challenge this approach, claiming this isn’t coaching. My personal and professional take is that we are there to be of service to the need of the client. Therefore, I will bring whatever tools and support mechanisms I can to help them accelerate and achieve what they need.
- Some of the other challenges beyond leading through transition include, but not confined, to the following:
- Establishing a common vision, purpose and alignment within your team.
- Supporting your team through transition.
- Establishing your professional brand.
- Becoming a more emotionally intelligent or literate leader.
- Leading through complexity and change.
- Building a high-performance culture and team.
- Holding difficult or challenging conversations.
- Understanding and developing your individual and team brand.
This is just an example of the types of challenges leaders and managers face on a daily basis. Leaders and managers are more like corporate athletes these days, and coaches are a safe environment in which to practice. Unlike the Olympians, corporate athletes are on the track and field every day, so coaches are there to give them a safe harbour to talk through their strategies.
Intrapreneurial & entrepreneurial capability
Developing intrapreneurial or entrepreneurial capability and the ability to take measured risk is a key ingredient for highly successful leaders in today’s global, dynamic and competitive landscape. An organisation’s capability to innovate is an essential way to get ahead. We only have to look at Apple to know this to be a key ingredient of their ability to game-change market spaces or create whole new industries.
Many organisations talk about innovation, but the leader’s need for control and the employee’s fear of losing their job over mistakes means that many great projects never make it to the board for discussion.
In contrast, real entrepreneurs accept failure as part of the learning journey and actively seek to push the envelope to make a game changing move. Coaches play an instrumental role in helping clients to become more innovative and entrepreneurial. You can read stories of entrepreneurs at my social project www.moefoundation.com and read the digital book about purposeful entrepreneurship.
Game changing decisions and moves
Apple is a great example of a culture that takes risks. I’m not advocating the Steve Jobs form of leadership because, like any maverick genius, there are pros and cons. It takes a special kind of person and team to survive and thrive in that type of area. I recently worked with a new leader and CEO of a social organisation, and he took a risk to be authentic, honest and upfront with the company. He had to turn the company around because the organisation was dying. He let go of a number of his top team and set about offering strength-based coaching for the entire company. Nine months later, his company’s engagement scores have doubled, morale is high, and he has a great team on board. There are numerous examples like this where a coach has positively agitated a leader and sought to help them to make game-changing decisions and moves.
Emotional change and transition
Coaching approaches help people gain greater awareness, become responsible and ultimately make their own choices. We aren’t psychologists, but we do understand how the inner voice (what we tell ourselves in our head) has a huge impact on our game. Changing habits on the surface level is easy but neuroscience has also taught us that it takes up to 90 days of sustained effort to make a change last – we only have to look at the difficulty alcoholics, smokers and people with heart conditions have – many fail to change behaviour and ultimately pay the price.
A leader who has coaching skills can send out the right messages, build a community of change agents and support managers in helping people go on both the logical and emotional change and transition journey.
If I’m an uninspired leader who has lost my way, what knock-on effects does this have on the rest of the workforce? What advice would you give me to turn myself around?
Optimism is a critical determinant of leadership success. A leader’s shadow (personality, character, behaviour) can impact a workforce positively or negatively. Who really wants to work for a mean, corrosive or abusive boss? The only reason that people stay to work for people like this is that they’re scared or feel trapped.
Leadership shouldn’t be seen as a role, but as a privilege. People need to trust their leaders and look up to them in terms of mutual trust or respect. Both are powerful, but one is essential. Leaders who have lost their way or are feeling down have often lost their impetus, mojo or energy. Coaches can help leaders address this by making tough choices.
Note: Depression is on the up and often counselling or other psychological support mechanisms have a role to play if this is what is occurring. Depression is an illness that may have deep-rooted causes and to solve this may not be best served through a coaching relationship.